Photographer Kasey-Leigh Davies explores spatial apartheid with profound collection ‘Citysspace’

Kasey-Leigh Davies uses photography to explore the notion of separation across cities in South Africa and Germany. Born in rural Eastern Cape, “where wide areas of uninhabited space were left for my sister and me to freely explore,” Kasey took up painting in her teens and later moved to Cape Town, where she studied at the Michaelis School of Fine Art and became drawn to photography.

Currently based in Berlin, the creative shares her body of work, titled Cityspace, which “draws attention to the monotony of everyday life within the urban terrain and the strange frightening beauty of the structures found within it”, she explains. With a focus on Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, the creative talks to us about capturing these photographs.

How did Citysspace come to be?

During my second year studying fine art, I began to focus on drawing, division, isolation and alienation within urban spaces. Looking at this wonderful surface picture of a city that does not quite live up to its name, I tried to analyse and unpack how Cape Town can resemble for some the most fantastic holiday destination and for others a completely different picture of long commutes, poverty and inequality.

I accumulated all these unresolved feelings and self-discoveries into a body of work called Citysspace. My aim was to photograph cities in South Africa and explore these ‘unsafe spaces’ of abandoned structures or ‘dodgy’ parts of town, [which I did with the help of] people I connected with on Instagram.

This was in complete contrast to my childhood days, and it was at that time that I began to study psychogeography, a practice that focuses on the effects that space has on the individuals that inhabit it.

How does Citysspace reveal the effects of psychogeography in South African?

Citysspace stands as a collection of black and white photographs captured to emphasise the effects of space on the inhabitants of the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town. Here the notion of ‘cityness’ is foregrounded rather than any particular city. The repetition of the geometric patterns and the use of linear perspective draw attention to the monotony of everyday life within the urban terrain and the strange, frightening beauty of the structures found within it. In essence, the photos have a dual quality to them.

On the one hand, they refer to aestheticised architectural type photographs, relying heavily on the repetition of structural elements to show formal beauty. On the other hand, this beauty disguises the peculiarities and complexities found within these spaces. These spaces incorporate traces of the past, drawing attention to apartheid Modernist structures and buildings that are still existent today.

What effects does this duality have on our urban spaces?

In my opinion, infrastructure is built to divide people, controlling their actions by the creation of public and private spaces that are not inclusive. Due to the fundamental designs of cities in South Africa that pre-date a post apartheid era, space therefore has the ability to affect the inhabitants because of the way it can limit access. Since the initial urban design plans have not changed, the past ideals and structures are still present in new urban developments.

City spaces are a focal point because they are deeply embedded with traces of the past, which can often touch on feelings of isolation, alienation and division on the individuals that inhabit these spaces. This is something that is reflected through the socio-economic inequalities present in South Africa today.

See more of Kasey’s work.

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